ONE NATION WORKING TOGETHER (and 'go Dems')

I've been in discussion with a lot of folks whose idealism allows them to stay "above the fray" of declaring political allegiance.  I can respect that.  Hell, I even admire it.  But I'm too cynical, too pragmatic, and maybe too base and "fallen" to be so balanced and thoughtful.


DEMOCRATS NEED TO VOTE THIS ELECTION SEASON.  WE NEED TO GET SOME MOMENTUM GOING.  THERE'S TOO MUCH AT STAKE!!


Lowering taxes is not going to repair a dissolving middle class.  Keeping gay marriage illegal isn't going to lower the crime rate or keep us safe from terrorists.  And nothing the enraged Right is proposing deals (IN ANY WAY) with taking care of widows and orphans, feeding the poor, protecting the marginalized, healing the sick, or any of the other things a politically-nonpragmatic 1st Century Jew destroyed his life by preaching.  He got himself killed.  He undermined a political uprising by his zealous followers.  He was completely impractical.  Sort of like going against the free market or condemning the military-industrial-complex.


I'm not saying that Democrats are like Jesus.  We're a mess.  A complete, politically-impotent, disaster of  parlor games, complacency, arrogance and laziness.  But at our best, we BELIEVE in greater things.  Our ideas are better.  Our hopes are higher.  


There's a rally taking place in Washington DC.  I won't be there (can't afford it) but it sounds like a party!  At the very least, I hope you get out and vote.


In less than 48 hours, tens of thousands of union members and civil, human, community and faith activists will be in the nation's capital for the historic One Nation Working Together march and rally. The Oct. 2 march will call for renewing the American Dream for all people--the antithesis of the fear-mongering dominating too much of the national conversation.
Nearly 200 progressive groups, including the AFL-CIO, NAACPNational Council of La Raza and many unions, have come together in One Nation, a multiracial, labor, civil and human rights movement whose mission is to reorder our nation's priorities to invest in our nation's most valuable resource--our people.
In an op-ed in today's Detroit Free PressUAW President Bob King says the march "will carry many messages, among them jobs, peace, equality and justice.

    But the most important message of all is hope and optimism.

Stephen Colbert: "I like talking about people who don't have any power..."

It was actually hard for me to find this footage - most of the online clips of Colbert's testimony on immigrant labor cover his rehearsed (scripted) statements.  Here, the man speaks with language that gets me right in my gut:



I like talking about people who don't have any power.  I want to learn how to give up some of my own for the sake of others.

I Get Lost

This poem has been really popular on my Facebook page (lots of thumbs up)...


When I say 'I am a Christian'
I'm not shouting 'I'm saved.'

I'm whispering 'I get lost,'
    That is why I chose this way...

~Maya Angelou 


I like the way she articulates "choice." We choose a way that seems right to us. We get lost. There is grace.  Thanks be to God.

God, that's nice and all, but what about my friends?!

   
I was reading Genesis 17 today:
God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"
Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.  (vs. 15-20)
Interesting that God tells Abraham he will be blessed by giving him a son through Sarah, but it's not enough for Abraham.  Abraham pleads: "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"
God essentially says, "sure.  I'm going to bless you the way I said I would, but since you asked, I'll go ahead and bless Ishmael too."
I'm reminded yet again of my friends in the LGBT community.  Conservative Christians hear God promise blessing to themselves, based on their piety and obedience, but they also seem quite comfortable with the [perceived] lack of blessing upon their neighbors.  They accept a bare minimum from God: their own blessing.
In Genesis 17, Abraham isn't satisfied with only himself, or only his legitimate son-to-be.  Abraham asks for more.  Abraham asks for blessing on Ishmael.
What might God do THROUGH Christianity if we simply ASKED?  The debate over scriptural legitimacy, accuracy, context and original-intent all aside (and if possible, try to forget which "side" of the LGBT debate you're on):  What if the church, rather than accept a rigid teaching on sexuality and gender roles, actually said: "God, thanks for blessing us, but we'd like you to bless them too!"  What if we asked more of God?
In Matthew 16:19 Jesus says, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
If we have the keys, we are given power as instruments of God's blessing and God's grace. 
Will we bless, or curse?  Will we bind, or free?  If Jesus is telling the truth, then I choose to LOOSE my friends and neighbors in heaven AND on earth.  I'm certain there'll be plenty of space...

I found a great article on CNN’s religion section that offers some serious insight on the issue of poverty in relation to Christian cultural attitudes.  It’s amazing to me that the church so often manages to articulate a worldview that excuses it from doing the work commanded by Scripture.  As Kierkegaard said, “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly… My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."
Kierkegaard is right.  And so is Biblical testimony to the centrality of compassion, charity and alms.  Enjoy:
*       *       *
5 myths about poverty that Christians should renounce 
By Mark Lutz, Special to CNN
The son of missionary parents, Mark Lutz is Senior Vice President at Opportunity International, a non-profit microfinance organization, and author of the new book UnPoverty: Rich Lessons from the Working Poor.

Poverty is not an issue. It's people. 
We hear about it, but do we really understand it? Myths about poverty abound, particularly among those of us bent on following Jesus' teaching about the poor and oppressed.

Myth 1: People are poor because they are lazy or stupid. 
Poor people work incredibly hard, under harsh conditions, frequently seven days a week. With no welfare programs and no social networks, if they don’t work, they don’t eat. That’s reality.

My work in microfinance has taken me to some 50 countries. I’ve watched men making bricks in equatorial sun from morning till night in exchange for $10; women hauling five-gallon containers on their heads and in each hand every morning to water their garden-size farm; children rifling through trash for recyclables to exchange for a meal.
Despite their efforts, these hard-working people cannot get off their economic treadmills; they pass their generational poverty onto their children and grandchildren. Getting to know them as sisters and brothers, I can vouch that they are anything but lazy or stupid. The only reason for their life of misery and mine of relative luxury is where we were born.
Myth 2: Poor people want handouts. 
We assume that a hungry person wants us to give them something to eat. Sure, if a mother’s children are hungry she’ll gladly accept a free meal. But what that person would much rather have is the opportunity to work and feed her family. Each time she accepts a handout she exchanges a portion of her dignity.

In the Bible, God instructs farmers not to harvest the corner of their crops, but to leave it for the poor. God didn’t tell them to reap it and give the money to the poor, but to leave it for the poor to pick and eat. They need food, but they also need and want an opportunity to work.
Every day some 25,000 people die from starvation. Disturbing as that may be, the real tragedy is that for 90 percent of them, there is no food shortage. They just can’t afford to buy available food. The appropriate response is not relief but development, including opportunities to work.
Myth 3: Our foremost responsibility is America’s poor. 
The number one objection I hear to our work in the developing world is that we must first solve the problems in our own country. Yet half of humanity barely survives on $2 per day. And they don’t live here.

We live in a generous country where last year more than $300 billion was given to charity from voluntary donations. As grand as that is, less than five percent goes to international work, leaving 95 percent in our own country for our churches, university endowments and symphonies.
These are worthy causes, but charities that serve the wealthiest nation. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when in Matthew 25 he told his followers to serve “the least of these.”
Myth 4: Jesus said we will always have extreme poverty. 
What Jesus said in Mark 14:7 was: “The poor you will always have with you.” 
Jesus recognized that some will always have less than others. But the kind of abject poverty that over one billion people endure—those living on $1 per day—wouldn’t be tolerated by Jesus and should not exist today.

I honestly believe we can eradicate extreme poverty. And if we can, then we must. 
Myth 5: Jesus was concerned primarily about spiritual poverty. 
I grew up in South Africa, surrounded by missionaries. There was a subtle message that eternity is a lot longer than life. If someone is saved and bound for heaven, it doesn’t much matter how hungry their children are.

But when Jesus began his public ministry, he read his mission statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor… To set free the oppressed.” (Luke 4:18).
Though we must read on to understand the full gospel, if we seek to follow his example and teaching, we must bring good news to the poor and set free the oppressed. More than 2,000 verses in the Bible deal with the poor. Jesus had special solidarity with the poor and told us that if we love him, we will show it by caring for them.
*       *       *
It’s amazing that the religion of the people trying to follow the way of Jesus could so successfully and systematically avoid doing the things fiercely mandated throughout Scripture.  As James 1:27 says so clearly, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
A great site on how to get involved, through the author’s UnPoverty website… 

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao

The Tao Te Ching
Chapter One


The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders.

Beautiful.  Elegant and mysterious.  Whatever is truly true is beyond our capacity to name, describe and fully comprehend.

In terms of truth that transcends linguistic and religious boundaries, I'm reminded of this:
In the beginning was the dhamma, And the dhamma was with God, And the dhamma was God... The true light that enlightens everyone. 
 - John 1:1 (Sri Lankan translation)
Language matters little.  Truth adapts, as our spirits do.

Last Sunday: "National Back to Church Sunday"

There was a big online media push for "National Back to Church Sunday" several weeks ago, which culminated on Sunday, September 12th.  The day after September 11th - a coincidence?  A play on people's anti-Muslim sentiment as a ploy to help aid dying churches across America?

The website (http://backtochurch.com) read:

"National Back to Church Sunday is a special day set aside each year on the second Sunday of September. On that day, thousands of churches will open their doors and welcome anyone who would like to rediscover church.
National surveys indicate that there are many reasons people stop attending church. In fact, the top two reasons people stop coming to church are that they feel that they are “too busy” and others feel the burden of family & home responsibilities. We understand that. Those are very real reasons, but those are probably the top two reasons why you need to be in church. Wherever you’re at, a local church community is there to support you. Maybe this is the invitation you have been waiting for. Get connected with a group of people who are making a difference. Grow in your faith; give your children a Christian foundation; learn to be a better parent; get marriage help; and reconnect with your community and with a God who loves you."

I'm not so sure that "too busy" is the chief reason folks aren't going to church.  I think it might be that what the church in America is offering just isn't very attractive.  

I haven't invited a friend to church in a long time, and that's not just because I've jumped to and from several churches over the last 5 years.  It's because as much as I want my friends to discover what I have found in Jesus Christ, I have no idea where to send them that will help them follow Jesus in a meaningful way.  A lot of my friends that don't go to church aren't interested in the mess we've made, the arguments we're having, or the cheapened subculture we've created.  

I grew up bringing friends to church.  I even did it in my early twenties, and remember feeling deeply embarrassed at that point by what was coming from the pulpit, and the pews.  It wasn't arrogance that made me want to differentiate myself from the altar calls, salvation prayers, tithe-pushes and culture-attacks.  It was the look on my friends' faces.  Fish out of water?  More like civilians ducking artillery fire.  I don't want to put them through that, and whatever I have to offer in the Way of Jesus, I still don't have a great way to direct them after they've met Jesus.

I recently found out that an old friend had become a "Born Again Christian."  For the first time in my life, I realized I was internally cringing at the subject of salvation.  Because I know what kind of church she's now going to.  And I know what that means...

In celebration of National Back to Church Sunday, I didn't go to church.  Or maybe it was because I was just tired.  

Look, I don't think church is bad.  I still love THE Church. But church can't save America (if, indeed, American needs to be saved).  Church attendance isn't the problem, but it certainly isn't the solution.  I pray instead that we can discover a solution to saving the entire world.  I believe that inevitably must involve the Body of Christ, but I'm not convinced we've properly made a distinction between being a member of that Body, and simply getting "back to church" - back into pews to consume (weakly) a weekly message...

Reader Response: When Hell is OFF the Table...

I got an e-mail several weeks ago:
* * *
Peter,
I am interested in in the statement you made, "I do not think those who reject Christianity are doomed to hell." Could you explain why? Is there another way to Heaven? If so, then why did Jesus have to die? Why would the Father put His Son through all that if there were some other way? Didn't Jesus ask the Father in the Garden of Gethsame, "Father, if there be another way, let this cup pass"?

Thanks for the things you brought up about Paul's views on women. I am definately going to look into all that you brought up.
* * *
My response:
Dear XXXX,
Thanks for the e-mail! I realize this is tough stuff - and I don't take it lightly, or with disrespect toward my theology-of-origin, which was much more exclusive. I don't expect or intend to change your mind, but I appreciate that you're asking questions, and always enjoy making new friends online.


I agree that historically, Christianity has taught a fairly exclusive doctrine of salvation: those who don’t accept Christ are condemned to hell. That teaching is easier to accept when you’re (a) an oppressed believer, living under violent Roman persecution, or (b) part of a theocratic medieval society where everyone is Christian. In either scenario, it’s unlikely that typical Christians faced the dilemma of a neighbor or loved one who did not believe.


That's probably a core reason our soteriology developed and cemented as it did. In the 21st Century, however, we confront this problem daily with friends, family, coworkers and classmates.


What's complicated is that biblical testimony is not singularly conclusive on this issue. There are plenty of scriptures available for constructing arguments in favor of exclusivism, inclusivism and universalism. I don't believe anyone “wins” the fight if it comes down to "arming" oneself with proof-texts that validate whichever position. The truth is, on a very personal level, we all choose to believe what seems true to us (even if we refuse to admit it). Many of the most conservative Christians I have known still make special allowances for people they care about – people who “couldn’t possibly go to hell!” Objective truth is one thing, subjective relationships are another. My friend Jim Henderson (http://www.offthemap.com/) says, “When people like each other, the rules change.” Many of these changed rules remain secret because people are scared of risking judgment or reproach from their churches. I have decided to accept the backlash and make my rule-breaking public because I think it’s helpful to talk about these things openly. I know my salvation is in Christ, but I don’t demand that of others. If Jesus came only to offer exclusive salvation through himself, then he actually made things worse for folks; not better. I believe Jesus flung the door to God wide open! George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, referred to an "Inner Light" that every human being carries: God's immediate presence. I affirm that spiritual connection in us all, and believe it is inherently salvific.


C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him."


As for Jesus having to die, typically, the Christian economics of sin and forgiveness demand a price for humanity’s wickedness. There are lots of theories as to how this works: Jesus paid our ransom, took our punishment, etc… but they all generally agree that sin creates a vacuum in the universe that must be filled.


Jesus Christ’s mission on earth undermined all the conventional wisdom of justice, salvation, power and hierarchy that the world so naturally accumulates. It was gentle, counter-intuitive, and it frustrated the motives of selfishness, ambition and dominance. Jesus told people what was true, not what they wanted to hear. At first they interpreted it the way they wanted to, and dreamed of a new Davidic kingdom. When they realized Jesus wasn’t going to deliver what they envisioned, they turned on him. Broken, scared, selfish people did what broken, scared, selfish people tend to do: they ravaged and brutalized what was pure.


I believe that the miracle of Jesus is the portrayal of a God who suffers: a weak and dying God, who chooses to identify with humanity firsthand.


Did Jesus have to suffer and die? I honestly don’t think God demanded it. Was it an inevitability given the innate conflict between darkness and light? Absolutely. In that way, I agree that sin creates a vacuum in the universe: it is inherent dysfunction. In the natural order, actions have equal, opposite reactions. In the supernatural order, Jesus Christ’s interruption into history created an overcompensation of light that continues to grow and swell through the ages, into today. We are invited to participate in this movement: to save, and to be saved. Jesus of Nazareth showed us that God promises to be our advocate, a participant in our salvation, literally our savior, and also our empowerment to "do even greater things than these..." (John 14:12)


At a very personal level, there’s something about Jesus more compelling than a moral philosophy or historic "high point" of humanity. There’s more to Jesus than wisdom. I have committed myself to loving Christ, not because I think he is my only available option, or because I think his miracles uniquely prove his truth, or even because I find other religions uncompelling. I remain in this relationships because I have the audacity to believe I know Christ. Rather than passive belief, faith is a miracle I choose to participate in.


Thanks again for your e-mail, XXXX. Blessings to you on your journey, and please feel free to e-mail any time.


Peter Walker
* * *
 I regret that this reader has not responded to my e-mail, but the invitation for further dialogue is open.

Porpoise Diving Life Video: Cheryl Ensom Dack Interviews Me...


After my recent contribution to the latest e-issue of The Porpoise Diving Life  (an article called "Family Questions: Will Evangelicals Still Love Me?"Cheryl Ensom Dack, the current editor of PDL, asked me to do an online web interview about the article.  Cheryl, again, thanks so much for the great conversation!




I mention some thoughts on hell in this video, and it's timely, because I had a recent reader e-mail me about my thoughts on hell.  In a few days, I'll share that exchange with you.

Tough Questions from Cheryl Ensom Dack

My new friend, Cheryl Ensom Dack - guest editor of http://www.theporpoisedivinglife.com/ - recently had some comments I wanted to share with you.  She writes:
* * *
My experience with God is... sketchy. I read "the book"  :) I have heard countless people say they know things/have experienced things with God. But it's been hard to believe that a real God who is all that others say he is would only reveal himself personally to some and not to others. That in many ways contradicts the nature that those who say they've experienced God say they've experienced! I don't KNOW God. Can I have faith in him? Not really. I can't have faith in something I've not directly experienced. I can think MAYBE it's true, real, etc. I can even think it probably is, but until I have a direct experience that persuades me personally that there is a God, I can't KNOW if it's so or not. I can choose to trust you or someone else who says you have experienced God, but truly that means I am having faith in YOU, not God. I'm having faith in the inerrancy of the Gospels. I'm having faith in the accuracy of the disciples' accounts. I am not having faith in God. To have faith in God would require that I had had a PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of God that engendered trust. On the contrary, my experiences have been that I have tried to have a personal experience in every way I could possibly come up with, including just plain sobbing/begging for years, and the fact is, it didn't happen. So my personal experience is actually one that adds up to God probably not being real, at least not in the "Christian" sense. I have personal experience with there being a spiritual dimension to life. I've seen, heard, touched, felt that. But a personal God? Not so much. I guess I'm saying that I had faith in OTHERS for a few decades, and now I'm not going to do that anymore. When it comes to God/beliefs that form my decisions, perspective, etc... I will not allow my beliefs to be built on faith in others' experiences any longer. I can't tell my children, "Well, we brought you up, telling you thus-and-so was true because so-and-so told us that thus-and-so was true." That's no explanation! I must know something to say I believe in it and that requires a personal experience with it.
...


So here's another question: Carl Jung and lots of people I've been reading who practice Jungian psychology talk about a "knowing"/intuitiveness/wildness" that is in all of us. They even talk about a collective consciousness... almost as though each of our individual "knowing places" are the nerves that end up connecting to a common brain or something... Jung believed that's why we see common "archetypal" themes showing up in our dreams; the fairy tales, the folklore and the dramas in our individual lives. So how does that strike you? When I've asked my children if they have a "knowing place" they, without pause or reflection, immediately say, "yes, of course." They are quite familiar with it. I asked a roomful of kindergartners I was subbing for this last Spring and they all said the same. I asked them where that knowing place was and about 98% of them pointed to their chests. A couple pointed to their tummies! I've had some experience of this "knowing place." I know it's real... Wondering what you think about it.

* * *

Really great questions, Cheryl.  I'm particularly drawn to your comments about taking the word/testimonies of others' experiences as fodder for one's own faith.  Too regularly, domestic faith relies on the "promises" of others to validate and prove itself.

God can do better.  So can we.


9-11: Tragedy / Grief / Suffering/ Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

It's 9-11 and there's lots to be said, I know.  The death toll of the attacks was 2,996, including the 19 hijackers.  It was terrible, and I can't comprehend the sorrow and pain felt by Americans there, who had loved one's there, or who lived and worked nearby.


But in April, 2009 the Associated Press reported casualties of 110,600 Iraqis, due to the Iraq War.


In Darfur, there are various estimates on the number of human casualties, ranging from under twenty thousand to several hundred thousand dead, from either direct combat or starvation and disease engendered by the conflict.


Haitian President Rene Preval reported in January, 2010 that nearly 170,000 bodies had been counted after the Haitian earthquake. In February, 2010 Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive estimated that 300,000 had been injured.


Mark R. Elsis of Lovearth.net writes: 
On Tuesday September 11, 2001, at least 35,615 of our brother and sisters died from the worst possible death, starvation. Somewhere around 85% of these starvation deaths occur in children 5 years of age or younger. Why are we letting at least 30,273 of the most beautiful children die the worst possible death everyday? Every 2.43 seconds another one of our fellow brothers and sisters dies of starvation. 

The world is filled with death and pain and suffering - so much that we tend to lose track of whatever is "out there" because it's too overwhelming.  We fixate on what's "right here" (and even then, that's not entirely true because we're "so done" with post-Katrina aid).  


I grieve for the 2,996 lives lost in the September 11 Terrorist Attacks in New York (I use the number including the 19 hijackers, because Jesus actually called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us) but I also grieve for the thousands who die each day, the millions who are starving, sick, raped, tortured, enslaved, abused and murdered all over the world.  Here in the United States and elsewhere.  Christian, Muslim and atheist victims.  


The world needs peace, not war rhetoric from Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the fool in Florida.  Religious folks have to do better.  We can do better.  We can be better.  WE CAN LOVE BETTER.  


After his CNN interview on Wednesday, I think I'm a real fan of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. I know it's hard to judge based on a quick television interview, but I kept thinking: "What a lovely human being."  The man speaks a language of peace.  We can meet that language in-kind and still grieve for the Americans who lost their lives in the World Trade Center.  It doesn't have to be either-or.  Revenge and outrage don't honor those lost.





Great quotation from Rauf: "If you politicize a religion, it is dangerous!" 


And he said he wanted to "establish a center that would be the space for a vision that I've had for over a decade... which is to establish a space which embodies the fundamental beliefs we have as Jews, Christians and Muslims, which is to love our God and to love our neighbor.  To build a space where we have a culture of worship.  And at the same time, to get to know each other.  And to forge personal bonds.  'Cause that's how our society, how a community is built.  And how we can create something that will snowball, to push back against the radical discourse that has just hijacked the discourse in our country and in much of our world."



Friends, we really can get past the divisive discourse that demonizes anyone who doesn't share our worldview; who doesn't speak our language; who doesn't share our skin tone or carry a familiar surname.  We don't have to forget the past.  But the past does not dictate the future.  We can do better.


Peace be upon you.

The Porpoise Diving Life: Family Questions

I'm a lifelong Oregonian, and there's a cool dude in Central Oregon named Bill Dahl, who has been running www.ThePorpoiseDivingLife.com since I-don't-know-when.  His site has been on my radar since I first started scanning www.EmergentVillage.com back in the early-to-mid-2000s, so it's at least that old.  I'd guess Bill has been causing online mischief for longer than that.

Bill and I both contributed to a book in 2007/2008 called Out of the Ooze: Unlikely Love Letters to the Church from Beyond the Pew,  So we have some history of being on each other's radar, in addition to our geographic proximity.

Several months ago Cheryl Ensom approached me, asking me to contribute to the latest e-issue of The Porpoise Diving Life.  I was thrilled, since Bill had given her my name.  Anyway, it's been a pleasure getting to know Cheryl, the current editor of Porpoise Diving.

My article there is called "Family Questions: Will Evangelicals Still Love Me?"  It's all about the problem of being a liberal, and still wanting to be spiritually connected to the Evangelical community that raised me.


An excerpt:

For decades, Evangelicals were my family. I grew up with them. They helped form me into the person I am today. They taught me about kindness, hospitality, and the joy of the Lord! I found Jesus Christ with Evangelicals, through Evangelicals, and among Evangelicals. They were my siblings, friends, my social circle and my creative outlet. They took care of me when I was lonely in college, comforted me when I was crushed and brokenhearted, prayed for me when I was sick, and rejoiced with me when I married my wife. 
Somehow, after all those years of fidelity and love, like a civil divorce based on mutual agreement, we politely parted ways citing “irreconcilable differences.” 

Click here to read more!

Americans, Muslims, Obama, Fear, Roger Ebert, and so on...


I am a big fan of Roger Ebert's blog.  He's wonderfully insightful, and I wanted to share a recent post.  

I'm not a big fan of liberal radio pundit Norman Goldman, but he said it right a few days ago: "I am AFRAID.  Yes I'm playing the fear card, America, because I am genuinely afraid!"

Myself, I grieve and weep for the fear, jingoism, hatred and xenophobia that plague our society to the core of its collective culture.
We have to do better.  We (liberals unafraid of the label) have to be aggressive, stop apologizing for a common sense, science/research/data-based worldview demonized by fundies, and push harder with progressive ideals and general GOODNESS than they can counter with their intolerance.
We can beat them if we get off our damn couches, and turn our complaints into action.
We can beat them.

        ROGER EBERT:
        We already know the numbers. Pew finds that 18% of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. A new Newsweek poll, taken after the controversy over the New York mosque, places that figure at 24%. Even if he's not a Muslim, Newsweek finds, 31 percent think it's "definitely or probably" true that Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world."
        When the focus is narrowed to Republicans, a Harris poll finds 57 percent of party members believe he is a Muslim, 22% believe he "wants the terrorists to win," and 24% believe he is the Antichrist.
        These figures sadden me with the depth of thoughtlessness and credulity they imply. A democracy depends on an informed electorate to survive. An alarming number of Americans and a majority of Republicans are misinformed. The man who was swept into office by a decisive majority is now considered by many citizens to be the enemy. Some fundamentalists believe he is the Antichrist named by Jesus in the Bible.
        This many Americans did not arrive at such conclusions on their own. They were persuaded by a relentless process of insinuation, strategic silence and cynical misinformation. Most of the leaders in this process have been cautious to avoid actually saying Obama is a Muslim. They speak in coded words and allow the implications to sink in. I recently watched Glenn Beck speaking at great length about Obama's Muslim father, but you would not have learned from Beck that the father, who Obama met only once, was not a practicing Muslim in any sense.

        Rush Limbaugh has told his listeners he can find "no evidence" that Obama is a Christian. In Paul Krugman's op-ed column in the New York Times on 8/29, Limbaugh is quoted: "Imam Hussein Obama, is probably the best anti-American president we've ever had." Limbaugh obviously doesn't believe Obama is an imam. How many of his listeners realize that? Is he concerned that his words will be taken seriously?

        These opinions have an agenda. They seek to demonize the Obama Presidency and mainstream liberal politics in general. The conservatism they prefer is not the traditional conservatism of such figures as Taft, Nixon, Reagan, Buckley or Goldwater. It is a frightening new radical fringe movement, financed by such as the newly notorious billionaire Koch brothers, whose hatred of government extends even to opposition to tax funding for public schools.
        ... Palin and Beck have so far both been content to let this process work without specific comment on their part. Their silence is a symptom of a cancer infecting American democracy. Our political immune system has only one antibody, and that is the truth.
        The time is here for responsible Americans to put up or shut up. I refer specifically to those who have credibility among the guileless and credulous citizens who have been infected with notions so carefully nurtured. We cannot afford to allow the next election to proceed under a cloud of falsehood and delusion.
        We know, because they've said so publicly, that George W. Bush, his father and Sen. John McCain do not believe Obama is a Muslim. This is the time -- now, not later -- for them to repeat that belief in a joint statement. Other prominent Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also certainly do not believe it. They have a responsibility to make that clear by subscribing to the statement...

SynchroBlog - Immigration Reform

CHRISTIANS AND THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE - 9/8/2010

Congress continues to debate immigration reform, with Arizona as the infamous example of where we – as a society – are quite capable of ending up.  As people of faith, we have to work harder in developing a clear witness to issues of isolationism, protectionism, classism, xenophobia, hyper-patriotism and social militance.  We have to do better.
 
I tend to think of Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest) as generally progressive and politically Democratic.   Unfortunately a recent report showed that 61% of Oregonians agree with Arizona's immigration law.   The truth is, however liberal-minded we are, Oregon is far from diverse.  I've told this story before: I recently had a woman tell me about her brother who owns an orchard: "with all the laws they have protecting migrant workers, the housing they require makes it nicer than than our own homes!"   That's right: having functional plumbing, electricity and insulation means her brother's migrant workers were living better than him.

That's the rhetoric from conservatives.  But white liberals love to talk about acceptance, compassion and multiculturalism.  We get very uncomfortable when that starts to hit our own homogenous neighborhoods (a "novelty" of diversity rapidly becomes a "problem").  In Who Will Roll Away the Stone, Myers writes:

For Christian theology, the privileged space of entitlement is first and foremost problematized by the gospel itself, which contends that its truth is better perceived by those on the margins than by those at the center. This stands to reason: Those who have been dispossessed by a social system are by definition less possessed by that system's illusions about itself. (17)

The contemporary zeitgeist cannot be trusted to protect the vulnerable and marginalized.  I’m quite skeptical when the appeal is: “the majority of Americans believe…” or especially “the majority of Christians believe…” because the majority is painfully fickle, moved more often by fear and self-preservation than by moral clarity or spiritual enlightenment.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ demonstrated God’s weakness, love, redemption, renewal and liberation. I believe that spiritual awakening in Christ must lead us to advocate, opening prison doors and setting captives free. Because the Body of Christ does not function by magic, but by liberated people, powered by the Holy Spirit, continuing the work of liberation.

To reference Desmond Tutu: As a Christian, I believe that I am in bondage until my sisters and brothers, neighbors and enemies are truly liberated. I cannot be human if I cannot affirm the humanity of others. I cannot be human if my neighbors are not allowed their humanity. All of my efforts to liberate, liberate me. Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me.” So God is liberated to be God when we liberate each other.


What does liberation have to do with border policies?  It all comes down to what we believe our fellow human beings DESERVE.  If we believe people deserve human rights, then we must be ready to extend them those rights, ourselves.  If we cannot extend those basic human rights with whatever small capacity we have, we cannot claim to support them.

Jesus' flesh-and-blood ministry challenged the economy of empire, and the culture of class isolation. But in America, most of us are still drunk on a dream of self-made-destiny and prosperity. We think we're entitled to something that never existed. We strive for it at the expense of the most vulnerable.  These are our neighbors, for Christ's sake!


"YOU ARE TO DISTRIBUTE THIS LAND AMONG YOURSELVES ACCORDING TO THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL. YOU ARE TO ALLOT IT AS AN INHERITANCE FOR YOURSELVES AND FOR THE ALIENS WHO HAVE SETTLED AMONG YOU AND WHO HAVE CHILDREN. YOU ARE TO CONSIDER THEM AS NATIVE-BORN ISRAELITES; ALONG WITH YOU THEY ARE TO BE ALLOTTED AN INHERITANCE AMONG THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL.  IN WHATEVER TRIBE THE ALIEN SETTLES, THERE YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM HIS INHERITANCE," DECLARES THE SOVEREIGN LORD.
EZEKIEL 47:21-23

This piece is one of a collection of posts today across the blogosphere. 
Here are other participants in this Synchroblog:

Jonathan Brink – Immigration Synchroblog


Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being the Flag

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can Make Dreams Come True

Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories

Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?

Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – it’s a lot easier to be against immigration when you have papers

Steve Hayes at Khanya – Christians and the Immigration Issue

Ellen Haroutunian - Give Me Your Tired

Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear

Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge and Eyes Wide Shut

Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother

Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration

Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Absolutely Right

Peter Walker – Synchroblog – Immigration Reform

Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – The Jealousy of Migration

George Elerick at The Love Revolution – We’re Not Kings or Gods

A Generous Orthodoxy: When "THEY" are no longer scary...

Just re-reading McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist... before I loan it to a friend.  It's been years since I've cracked its cover.

I'm struck, again, by the - yes - generosity McLaren achieves here.
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho (Emergentys)
I wasn't a liberal the last time I read this book.  One of the things I realize, re-reading it, is how fair-minded he leads the reader to be about divergent strains of Christianity.  That fair-mindedness takes the sting of fear, reactionism, and division out of the reader's assessment of various Christian manifestations.

I think McLaren is really being honest when he has said he's not a "liberal," and not interested in making people liberals or anything else on the conservative-liberal spectrum.  He's high-minded, and it's admirable. I used to want to be that non-committal.  In some ways I still am, but in terms of liberal/conservative, there's too much skin in the game.  A lot of that skin belongs to my closest friends.

What's clear to me now, however, is that when fear of "the other" - fear of "them" - is taken out of the equation, it becomes a lot easier to gravitate toward the direction of one's own conscience.

Luther said:
My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. 
Of course, I need to be careful here because Luther's treatment of the Word of God is specifically Scripture.  I can affirm the same words, but I see the cosmic person of Jesus Christ as "the Word of God."

Still, "acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound."

I guess that means my conscience is a liberal one.  How did that happen?  Where does conscience come from?  I was raised in a very conservative household.  I can't imagine that I was born this way.  I used to be attracted to conservatism.  That wasn't choice. But feeling liberal wasn't a deliberate "choice" either, even if the decisions I make about faith now are.

Well, however my hearted managed to swing left, I'm grateful to folks like Brian McLaren for making it less scary.

The Shack / Off The Map Conference / Opinion / Real Life Story

I'm not sure I have ever weighed in on Paul Young's The Shack here.  The reason is because I don't like it, but most of the folks who hate it do so because it's "too liberal."  Mark Driscoll leads that charge, and  I never want to be aligned with that dude.


The Shack (Special Hardcover Edition)I don't dislike The Shack because it's liberal.  Before I share the reasons for my distaste, I want to offer a disclaimer.  In the last few days, as I have dialogued with several friends on Facebook about The Shack, an old college friend (whom I hadn't spoken with in years) offered some personal testimony on why The Shack was so helpful and meaningful in her life.  I was convicted for my overzealousness to proclaim something as "bad" or "poor" because my thoughts are little more than personal taste (except for a conviction on racial caricatures), and as a writer I probably have a chip on my shoulder: I haven't got a book deal yet; Paul Young has; maybe I'd like to whine about that.  Without getting too derailed here, I'll simply acknowledge that for all my ranting - for example - about contemporary Christian radio, there are millions of people who have been comforted and revitalized by lyrics like this: "How can you be so full of mercy?  You race to meet me, and bring me back to life..."  Or, "Like a rose, trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me above all..."  There's nothing wrong with that, and my biggest beef there is with the monetization of Christian music, and the conversion of it into a form of entertainment, rather than worship or art.  Same with books I suppose.  But I'm getting off on a tangent...


I dislike The Shack because (a) it's too tame, not too liberal.  It's conservative Evangelical theology in provocative clothing.  The most (best) theological assertions the book makes are affirming the Trinity and exploring the femininity of God.  Neither of those is bad (both are great, actually, I'd just like it to go further...) but in my reading, each carried with it a little too much self-awareness for the cleverness of the metaphor.  If that makes sense (like, when I think I've written something particularly witty here, I usually bold it and change the text color - but you knew I was a struggling narcissist, right?) And (b) I dislike The Shack because I think it's mediocre writing that often feels too cheesy for me to take seriously.


I felt patronized and offended reading his black mother-God:
"No, Mackenzie," chuckled the black woman.  "We is all that you get, and believe me, we're more than enough." (p. 85)
"We is all you get"?  Maybe Young took a cue on blackspeak from George Lucas' atrocious Jar Jar Binks alien slave caricature.


There's a reason even Disney stopped distributing Song of the South.

Young's description of Jesus as a "big-nosed Jew" is hardly eloquent, either:
"I guess I expected you to be more," be careful here, Mack, "uh... well, humanly striking."
Jesus chuckled.  "Humanly striking?  You mean hand-some."  Now he was laughing. 
... "It's my nose isn't it?"
Mack didn't know what to say.
Jesus laughed.  "I am Jewish you know.  My grandfather on my mother's side had a big nose; in fact, most of the men on my mom's side had big noses." (p. 111)
Not, in my opinion, a home run for the perception of Christians as culturally enlightened.  It amazes me that this kind of prose makes it to the New York Times bestseller list: "over 2 million copies sold."  But there are reasons for this:


My friend Jim Henderson (Off The Map) who is generally more gracious than I, recognizes that this book has provided hope and healing for a lot of folks damaged by rigid - particularly masculine - views of God.  At its best, Young's God is gracious, kind and approachable.  But the same can be said for the God of most fundamentalists (at their best)... Mark Driscoll hates this book particularly because he can't stand God being described as a woman.  His God is an asshole warrior.  Just like his Jesus.  I'd include some youtube clips of Driscoll talking about it, but I'd rather not fan his flame.


In any case, good can be gleaned from The Shack, and a lot of people find it a breath of fresh air for its reminders of who God can be to us, and how we can begin to heal from the wounds life and religion both throw at us.


My college friend on Facebook wrote to me [edited for length]:
Don't you believe that the trinity would depict what Mack himself would see, not what everybody would see? I guess that was just my interpretation - that we each would view or see the trinity differently based on what our spirits feel/see.   

...I, a very white girl learned a great deal about ignorance and racism through teaching in a very underprivileged area in Houston, TX. It was quite the experience. So, I hear what you're saying [about race]. I just think that sometimes Christians need to relax a bit and allow others to experience books for what they are, knowing that most are intelligent enough to figure out that it isn't the Bible... 
...I'm a bit on the outskirts of knowing what the typical christian views as controversial and have no idea as I don't attend church any longer and have no desire to. The book for me got me through a tough part in life while I saw my family being torn apart from several terrible life circumstances...  The Shack was truly instrumental in my family as we faced some serious tragedy. I think when a believer feels abandoned by God it's important to understand that the Bible might not be the first place they turn, so if a popular book like The Shack helps to remind them of their faith that's okay... Wouldn't we all love to get a letter from God reminding us of how deep his love is for us as a unique being? As we're in the midst of a terrible tragedy that has no end in terms of grief to have a moment where you feel God, no matter how physically or spiritually real, but to just feel him, that would be an amazing blessing... I just know that this book allowed my family to sit and chat about how it helped to remind us that we know God loves us even in the middle of having our amazing family members tortured with cancer... I think that is why others whom have had other major tragedies in their lives have endorsed it also. Grief calls for amazing stories sometimes to help them through and this book is one of those stories.
Eloquent and powerful, Sarah.  Thank you for sharing, for your openness, and for the reminder that we all have very different needs. I'm thankful this book was useful to you and to many others. 


SO!  If you happen to be in Seattle on September 10th, it's worth your time to attend this event.  Henderson is one of the most gifted interviewers/moderators I've ever seen, a genuinely good guy, and I'm certain he'll facilitate some fabulous dialogue.  He'd like Mark Driscoll to attend too, though I wouldn't wish that on my enemies.


Click here for more information

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